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Opinions of Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Columnist: Amankwah, Kasadiimu Gyekye

Countdown to 50? Ready? Set?

The Okyerema has beaten the atumpan (even if you can’t hear it) to congratulate mother Ghana on her 50 years of being. Our forefathers fought for the independence and as our noble Ephraim Amu rightfully puts it “eye abooden de ma yen” because “ mogya na nananom hwie gui …” The forefathers did a lot and although it has not been as smooth a journey thus far as most Ghanaians would have loved for it to be, we are here. 600 months, that’s how long we have come from independence. It’s been that long. Yeah, you’re probably thinking we will be celebrating 1,000th month anniversary. Maybe not.
So whiles we have the 600th month anniversary let us make the best of it. 50th year anniversary, is what I mean. I have always maintained that our 50th independence is not a time for merely a big party but a time for reflection and making serious efforts to move our country and our people forward.
You have read mighty plenty about our misplaced priorities as a nation. I have seen a lot of money being passed around to and from the government coffers, all in the name of a fitting Golden Jubilee. I trust that we are not wasting the money. I have seen some information about how the government is raising money from the business community, both local and foreign, to foot the bill. I think that is brilliant. What I don’t think is brilliant is the fact that we cannot be as aggressive about raising some of this same money and get about our infrastructural development.
After 50 years of self-government, you sit down and recount what we have accomplished and all you can list is what the founding father did with a few additions. There have been only few additions; if you look at the relative amount of time and resources we have burnt and what we have to show for it, you will get the point. This is not the focus of our conversation today so let’s shelf it for a minute. Let’s talk about our preparations; let’s talk about our lights-off (power outage) issues; let’s talk about Ghana at 50 Secretariat.
This “lights-off” thing seems to have become one of the anomalies of our society. It is so bad that when your lights stay on all week without interruption, you feel like giving a testimony on how good the Lord has been to you. One of my papa-samo friends confided that he has fears of spending a long time in Ghana because he might get sick from the heat of sleeping through the night without an air conditioner. If you would ask me, I think that is some nonsense, but it got me thinking about something else.
None of the hotel brochures say (not even in their fine prints), that their guests should beware of the periodic lights-off. Yeah, I know the hotels will be smart enough to either bribe their way into being spared the embarrassment and inconvenience of losing electricity. Or at the least, they will have a back-up power generator. But what if they do lose power? What if they come to visit friends and to enjoy Ghanaian hospitality only to realize we all are almost getting used to? You might think I am exaggerating but wait till you hear this.
Part of Nigeria’s crime (armed robbery) rate over the years have been attributed to the almost certain lights-off situation of Nigeria’s NEPA (a.k.a. Never Expect Power Always). Now you are breathing heavily. Crime thrives in darkness and if you want to do a case study on Ghana’s spike in robbery and our electricity supply, please be my guest.
It has been going on for far too long and should have been addressed by the powers that be a long time ago, but the selfish rich few don’t care about the masses because after all they have generators and can afford to buy fuel on our broken backs to keep their households running. Not only that, after a long day’s work and during the seriously congested traffic, you get to a light on a lights-off day and there is chaos because there is no policeman to bring order by directing traffic. Should we not have power supply for things like traffic lights, streetlights, and hospitals, even if it means the Castle will have no electricity? Shouldn’t there be better coordination (if the lights have to be out- which I don’t agree with by the way) to get a policeman at the light before the scheduled outage? A simple police duty! I am sure when the President, The Greater Accra Regional Minister, The IGP, The Mayor of Accra and The Director General of the Electricity Corporation get stuck in traffic for hours like the rest of us, only to find this out, they will get the point. Maybe they will read this, or you will tell your father’s parliamentarian friends about it. This is because if we were to measure a country’s status by this standard alone, I would bet my last cedi that Ghana would be rated 10th world. And I would not lose.
I am concerned because the celebration is year long and regardless of how much renovations go on at the Independence Square, we need to fix our basic infrastructure before we can attract the so much needed investment and return of the Papa Samo (and all his expertise).
A simple spreadsheet that outlines the dates and times that the various areas in Accra would experience lights-off could be shared by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (that is if we have to have lights out), the Police MTTU and the Electricity Corporation so as to position the MTTU personnel to ensure the smooth flow of traffic where traffic lights regulate the flow of traffic. Please tell me we do not have enough personnel to do this and I would throw a fit because we can hire more police personnel to do this since those on current payroll are either escorting the people who matter, or driving the children of the bosses of the police department to and from school. Tell me we need another IMF grant to buy a computer for the Ghana Police and hire more officers and I’ll ask you about the officers hanging out at the Abofu junction on the Accra-Tema Motorway sorting their pockets out with the booty from drivers who make the illegal left turn towards Achimota. I’m sure they are doing a great job because they are preventing accidents but you and I know they are there because it is more lucrative than directing traffic at the Dimples Traffic Light.
As far as this celebration is concerned, I must say that preparation has been very pathetic. One would have expected that the spirit of the occasion would have been jump-started right after the new year and although every now and then you see adverts on the TV, the people in charge should realize that we are outdoor people and so to reach majority of Ghanaians and to whet their appetite there has to be more banners and billboards and more activities at the local level. For instance, soccer games that start from the district level that would only feature the 50+ year olds, a revised story-telling competition, play competitions from amateur actors about our struggle for independence and where we are going as a nation.
I don’t know if there is a 50th anniversary cloth but I believe this should be instituted and made mandatory for all government employees to wear every Friday to work for the whole year. Better yet, let all government employees work one extra hour everyday for the whole year to commemorate our independence. In addition to adding to our productivity, it will be a source of conversation. Government employees will talk unendingly about how they are helping the country by working extra hours without extra pays.
As far as the cloth goes, since I know most government workers (like the rest of us) love freebies, the extra productivity will mean, the government will not have to subsidize it. This will be of interest to the textile industry as well. Since tourists would see the cloth and maybe help increase demand
And the big maybe is that, they are waiting till 5th of March to start selling these things. That would be a dumb idea. I live in a big city like Accra and am not seeing what you think we should all be seeing flooding the city. Hats, caps, wrist bands card bumper stickers, refrigerator stickers etc should have been out a long time ago, with some being exported to the people outside Ghana. I saw something on Ghanaweb about anniversary memorabilia from somebody in Washington DC. I thought when I visited two of the most popular African Markets in the area, the aroma of these memorabilia and the story of the celebration will be front and center. No. It was like we are waiting till it’s all over and then we will sell the bootleg videos.
The lectures are good but the target audience is the people who can read and have access to the Internet to get this information or already know these facts. Please get us more activities that target the ordinary Ghanaian. The ordinary Ghanaian need more than some PhD reading another boring script. The ordinary Ghanaian could use an exhibition or workshop on how to sell Ghana, for instance. Just like we would have a catchy slogan for our political parties, we should come up with a slogan for Ghana at 50. Championing African Excellence is nice but could we have something in Hausa, Ewe, Ga or Twi?
The Ghana Tourist Board and the Ministry of trade should work with the not-so-functional Ghana at 50 Secretariat to ensure that all the hotels, especially the small ones have very sanitary conditions and also water reservoirs and generators for backup. I am saying this because I believe most of the major hotels are already fully booked and most of the tourists would end up with these small hotels and whatever experience they would have, would be a reflection on the entire hotel industry and Ghana, especially if they are first time visitors.
The Ministry for modernization of the Capital City would have been a very welcome innovation or addition had they understood and stuck to the name of the ministry. 50 years after self-rule and right in the center of Accra (the city dubbed the gateway to Africa) and you will see homes with pot or box latrines. I can understand the kind people at this ministry do not want to deprive night soil carriers of the opportunity to ply their trade. How many men in their right frames of mind will free-willingly carry others’ toilet in buckets on their heads?
I bet a night soil carrier will appreciate independence more if he worked at AMA’s sewage processing plant at the Korle Lagoon. But until then, independence would not mean anything to them and they could care less.
One thing I would like to suggest is for the government to make it mandatory for every house in especially Accra to start with, to have a flush toilet or bathroom or what we call in Ghana a water closet within the next month so as to say we have in a way modernized our sewerage system. Develop a system to phase out any other toilet facility over a period of 6 years. Set benchmarks and stick to it. This will not only modernize but would improve the general well being of all Ghanaians. I am surprised we have not declared this a health hazard after 50 years of independence.
The Modernization of the capital and ultimately the entire country should not only stop there but in new areas of development. It is very disheartening to drive down the Adentas, the Haatsos, the Kwabenyas and the East Legons and to see that the roads are not only bad but also the developers or landlords have left virtually no room for even pavements and proper drainage. I cannot help but wonder whether we are developing backwards because older communities like the Airport residential area, Ridge, and even Alajo were planned with room for pavements and proper drainage.
I cannot sound all down-spirited because after all it is our golden jubilee and for just the fact that we have not been annexed by a more powerful nation (although that is arguable), there is something to celebrate. Let us therefore strive, everyone doing his or her part, to make this celebration a memorable one.
I saw a video recently in an African Market about Kristo Asafo’s Safo Kantanka and his bold industrial initiatives. Even though the video at times seemed comical the drive and accomplishments of the jelly-curled Apostle was an example of what a yearlong and beyond showcase of Ghana should contain. The man developed some heavy building machinery from scratch, built a car and is working on a jet prototype. I was really impressed and proud that a son of the land is breaking such new ground.
Most of us are really proud of Kwame Nkrumah the Osagyefo, and his famous declaration: “At long last the battle has ended and Ghana our beloved country is free forever”. Kwame was the man back then (and still is) but I am not sure, as a student of history and politics, if he really knew what freedom he was talking about. Obviously not; because a few years after he declared that freedom, he threw his countrymen into jail and declared himself president for life. Now that’s the part we don’t read in our history books.
Nevertheless, he is a great son of the land. His confidence inspires all of us and it will be appropriate to talk and talk about him as we celebrate the nation’s founding. But I sincerely believe a more fitting honor to our first president is to develop the KNUST’s infrastructure and make it a world-class university. Now that will be a fine birthday present we could all benefit from.
Eat, drink and be merry. But remember that life still goes on and we can make this celebration count in the developmental agenda.
Ghana Ayekoo! Ayekoo!! Ayekoo!!!

Kasadiimu Gyekye Amankwah
Ghana Institute For Human Development
February 5,2007.


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